Travel Trailer Towing 101

Basics & Beyond

May 4, 2020
By: Jim Mac, RoadTravelFoodie

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • Affordable and flexible, the travel trailer is the most popular RV type
  • Sometimes called a "bumper pull," the travel trailer can be towed by a properly equipped car, truck, van, or SUV
  • Travel trailers come in all sizes including tiny jellybean-shaped models with a chuckwagon kitchen in the rear to the massive "house-on-wheels" with picture windows and sliding glass patio door
  • If you or a family member has difficulty navigating stairs, the single-level living of a travel trailer is a welcome benefit
  • Of all RV types, travel trailers offer the most sleeping accommodations, making them especially well-suited for a family with children

Towing a travel trailer is easy after a little practice. Modern hardware helps make towing simple, safe, and fun. And there is a good chance that one of your current family vehicles is up to the task.

"Towable RVs, including travel trailers and pop-ups, serve as the gateway to RV recreation for most people," says Trailer Life Technical Editor Chris Dougherty. "Colloquially described as a 'bumper pull,' the first camping travel trailers were hitched to the tow vehicle's bumper.

"We've come a long way since those early days of the 1950s. Just as the travel trailer has evolved over the years, so, too, has towing equipment. Modern, frame-mounted hitch receivers, equalizer hitches, and computerize brake-controllers contribute to a more enjoyable towing experience."

Selecting the Right Travel Trailer Floorplan

You will find hundreds of travel trailer floor plans offered by dealers today, which can be both frustrating and fun. How do you choose between a rear living room or rear bedroom model? Between a rear bath or rear kitchen floorplan? Is a bunkhouse floor plan under consideration? In addition to walking through some trailers at an RV show or RV dealership, the Keystone RV website offers tools to help you narrow down your choices, including 360 Virtual Tours and a floor plan selector.

An important side-note: If you or a family member find it challenging to climb stairs, then a travel trailer may be a better option than a fifth wheel. Travel trailers often have fewer steps leading from the outside to the inside, and unlike a fifth wheel, interior space is one-level with no stairs to climb from the living area to the bedroom.

 

Tow Vehicles

While most every car, van, SUV, or pickup can tow a trailer, not every trailer can safely be towed by every vehicle.

For the most enjoyable towing experience, it's essential to stay within your vehicle's towing capabilities and use the proper towing hardware. Check the tow ratings for your vehicle and make sure it can handle the travel trailer you intend to purchase. A lot of factors go into tow ratings, including engine size, transmission, axle ratio, and vehicle weight ratings.

We recommend the tow vehicle you select have a trailer weight rating to handle at least the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the RV you plan to tow.

Proper weight and load distribution are essential to safe towing. Keep the loaded tongue weight between 10% and 15% of the total weight. 

Read more about towing considerations and weight distribution in your Keystone RV Owner's Manual.

A GUIDE TO RV TOWING TERMS

GTW (GROSS TRAILER WEIGHT) – The weight of a fully loaded trailer.

TW (TONGUE WEIGHT) – The downward force of the trailer tongue on the hitch ball. Also called "hitch weight."

GVWR (GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING) – The maximum loaded weight of your vehicle as determined by the manufacturer. Overloading your travel trailer could result in an unsafe towing situation.

GCWR (GROSS COMBINED WEIGHT RATING) – The maximum total weight of a loaded tow vehicle and trailer as determined by the tow vehicle manufacturer.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR VEHICLE'S TOW RATING

Knowing what your vehicle can tow safely is a good place to start. Check with your manufacturer or click here to check out the Good Sam Towing Guides which are an excellent reference.

Related Article: Six Tips for Safe Trailering and Towing from GMC